Pluralistic: 30 Jun 2020

Today's links

Impossible Music (permalink)

One of my favorite novel formulas is for the author to take two subjects they're incredibly passionate about and use them as a springboard for their characters' problems and growth.

Sean Williams's Impossible Music is right in that sweet-spot.

It's the story of Simon Rain, an 18-year-old Australian noise-rock kid whose hearing is permanently, totally wiped out overnight when he suffers a rare stroke that obliterates the brain structures that process sound. That's the curtain-raiser for a superb coming-of-age novel.

It's the tale of Simon's coming to grips with his new Deafness, and how this affects his obsession with the outer bounds of what music is: when noise is musical, when music is noise, and even whether music has to be audible.

Williams himself was a promising and award-winning young composer who never stopped playing and writing, and like many of the musicians of my acquaintance, he can explain experimental music like John Cage's 4:33 in ways that make it sensible, even to musical dumdums like me.

As Simon struggles to convince a famous musicologist that he should be admitted into her elite composition program at a local uni, Williams takes us on a compelling and edifying journey through the meaning of music itself.

Meanwhile, Simon is also coming to grips with being deaf, and deciding whether he is willing to become Deaf – that is, whether he can make his deafness into part of his identity, a fact of life rather than a disability.

He's aided – and hindered – on this journey by the medical specialists, sign teachers and counsellors assigned to him, and by his girlfriend, who he meets in Deaf class after brutal, unstoppable tinnitus renders her unable to hear.

Simon's journey into adulthood, into Deafness, and into a new kind of musicianhood twine around each other, the familiar trappings of teen romance providing a sturdy, easily grasped scaffold for some deep, philosophical nerding out about two seemingly contradictory subjects.

It's a book that's hard to finish with a dry eye, but it's also a book that'll have you thinking about communications, music, Deafness and accommodation in new ways.

Yanis Varoufakis on capitalism's self-destruction (permalink)

Here's an admirably compact diagnosis of the malady afflicting capitalism and a suggestion for a cure from Yanis Varoufakis:

In 2008, we had an "endogenous" crash, caused by the finance sector itself. Governments gave them trillions, but "this liquidity did not turn into actual investment in the real economy."

"Banks recovered, the oligarchy found themselves with appreciating assets, the majority our there had to face harsh austerity. This boosted the disconnect between the world of money (that was doing well) and the world of the real economy (which was not)."

Now we face an "exogenous" crash, caused by the pandemic, but, "when Covid-19 arrived on the scene, it acted like a pin that bursts a gigantic bubble. Reflating this bubble, in the absence of public investment, will not be possible however much money Central Banks pump in."

All this is by design. Capitalism is supposed to produce technologies that undermines capitalism itself: "new machines come into play that cut down the content of labour per unit of output. New jobs are created lower down the hierarchy of work. This means that machines play an increasing role in producing great new products which the machines will never want and which humans are decreasingly able to afford."

Capitalism defenders argue that average standards of living has been improving for 150+ years. But income increase is a bad proxy for standard of living improvement, and actual living standard increases (as in China) are largely attributable to public investment, not markets.

Meanwhile, capitalism's banker-socialism and worker austerity " led to discontent, which then breeds fascism, xenophobia, nativism, ultra-nationalism."

Varoufakis is cofounder of a movement called Progressive Internatioanl, which has 2 goals:

  1. "Putting together a global plan for shared green prosperity"

  2. "Organising global actions in support of local causes (eg a global campaign in support of striking women workers in, say, India)"

(Image: Pedro Ribeiro Simões,

India bans Chinese apps (permalink)

India's Ministry of Information Technology has banned 59 Chinese mobile apps, ordering app stores to block them and ISPs to interdict communications with their servers.

This follows a fatal "skirmish" between Chinese and Indian troops on the Himalayan border, and while the banned apps are justifiably suspect on privacy grounds, the unilateral ban of major communications channels without due process has human rights campaigners worried.

In some ways, this kind of ban is inevitable, stemming from the twin monopilistic forces of:

  • App Stores: highly centralized repositories of software for the most personal and ubiquitous computing platforms; devices can be configured to ban switching to alternative stores;

  • Concentration in telcoms, which makes it practical to enforce national censorship rules because you need only deputize a handful of giant ISPs to follow the rules you've set down.

Anywhere these forces are present is at high risk of this kind of unilateral censorship.

Included in the ban are some of the most popular apps in India, and Indian audiences are crucial to those apps' success. For example, India leads the world in Tiktok downloads, and Wechat plays a major part of the country's messaging activity.

Meanwhile, Indian online spaces are filling up with some pretty dank national cyberspace sovereignty memes, as Bruce Sterling documents here:

Post-Trump trumpism (permalink)

It's hard to predict how the world will look on Nov 3, but if the election were held today, Trump would be slaughtered.

With that in mind, John Quiggin engages in some shrewd analysis of what the US and global right will do when Trump is trounced.

Quiggin is sanguine about a peaceful transition between administrations, betting that there won't be enough denial and motivated reasoning either from Trump's base or from party bigwigs to sustain any kind of electoral-fraud/rigged-game attempt to delegitimize the outcome.

Not least because Trump's policies are going to murder people by the tens of thousands in Red State strongholds filled with at-risk elderly veterans, and those same policies mean there is zero chance of an economic recovery in time for election day.

What will the right do when they are routed?

The big power block will be "hard neoliberals who controlled the party before Trump, attempting to reassert themselves, breaking with Trump’s explicit racism while still trying to keep the Repubs white voting base behind them."

But they will be countered by "more competent Trumpists, in the mould of Viktor Orban, keen to push an ethnonationlist, racist and authoritarian policy program without Trump’s clownish demagoguery."

Globally, a Trump defeat will mean little for dictators in Trump's mold, but it will make some of the right wing of the political class "outside the bounds of legitimate discussion…while others will engage in some quick reinvention."

So look for a battle between "competent Trumpists" and "hard neoliberals," with the neolibs in trouble due to the "massive unpopularity" of "just about everything that is identified with hard neoliberalism."

In particular, it's hard to sell under-40s on finance and trickle-down, because they "never experienced the illusory prosperity of the 1990s, or the crises of the 1970s."

Which means…future dominance of the right by competent Trumpists, I guess?

Gilead's $3k covid med should sell for $10 (permalink)

Oh, Gilead. No sooner do you stop demanding corporate welfare to help you price-gouge on a covid drug developed at public expense; then you step in a pile of greedy dogshit again, and insist it tastes great and we should try it!

At issue: your decision to charge Americans $3,000 for a five-day course of remdesivir, a drug developed with public money that experts say you could profitably sell for $10.

Now, this isn't all your fault. We can (and should) also blame the finance-friendly, pharma-dependent politicians, many of the Democrats, who paved the way for this, as David Sirota reminds us.

There's a bipartisan consensus on blocking the reinstatement of a rule that would require pharma companies to charge a fair price for drugs developed at public expense.;=2&vote;=00168

In 2016, Obama blocked Democratic Congressional calls to enforce the existing laws against pharma price-gouging.

In 2020, GOP Senators blocked reforms that would have allowed Medicare to negotiate drug prices, something that (incredibly) they are currently prohibited from doing, forced to pay whatever price pharma companies name

This rare bipartisan unity on transfering public funds to lazy, monopolistic pharma giants is hard to understanding. Maybe its the millions of dollars that pharma companies give to both Republican and Democratic campaigns?

The result is that Americans – who financed the R&D; for remdesivir – will pay more for it than anyone else in the world.

Your $29m/year CEO Daniel O'Day earned every penny when he published an open letter defending this practice, on the basis that the US system is unique in the world.–ceo-gilead-sciences

He's right! The US system is uniquely broken.

He should know.

He broke it.

This day in history (permalink)

#10yrsago Fox News advocates shutting down public libraries

#10yrago Lost steampunk coaster of Disneyland Paris

#10yrsago Toronto cops justify extreme G20 measures with display of LARPing props, weapons from unrelated busts

#10yrsago ACLU: America is riddled with politically motivated surveillance

#5yrsago Shadowshaper: outstanding supernatural YA contemporary fantasy

#5yrsago On Big Data's shrinking returns

#5yrsago Scalia insult-generator

#1yrago Police cameras to be augmented with junk-science "microexpression" AI lie-detectors

#1yrago Billionaire newspaper monopolist family cancels editorial cartoonist after anti-Trump drawing

#1yrago Debunking Microsoft's anti-Right-to-Repair FUD

Colophon (permalink)

Today's top sources: Naked Capitalism (

Currently writing:

  • My next novel, "The Lost Cause," a post-GND novel about truth and reconciliation. Yesterday's progress: 564 words (32922 total).

  • A short story, "Making Hay," for MIT Tech Review. Yesterday's progress: 350 words (4272 total)

Currently reading: Anger Is a Gift by Mark Oshiro

Latest podcast: Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town (part 07)

Upcoming appearances:

Upcoming books: "Poesy the Monster Slayer" (Jul 2020), a picture book about monsters, bedtime, gender, and kicking ass. Pre-order here: Get a personalized, signed copy here:

"Attack Surface": The third Little Brother book, Oct 20, 2020.

"Little Brother/Homeland": A reissue omnibus edition with a new introduction by Edward Snowden:; personalized/signed copies here:

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When life gives you SARS, you make sarsaparilla -Joey "Accordion Guy" DeVilla

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